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UNICEF calls for prioritization of investments in Early Childhood Development within the COVID-19 response

If Early Childhood Development is not prioritized in COVID-19 responses, young children face disproportionate risk and irreparable loss

NEW DELHI, 02 June 2020 – As the world celebrates the Global Day of Parents (1 June), amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF reiterates the urgent need to prioritize investments in Early Childhood Development (ECD) including focus on parenting within the COVID-19 response. This is critical to minimize preventable child deaths, to prevent violence against children, and to drive economic recovery and productivity in the longer term. In times of shock, services to support young children are often not prioritized and end up being overlooked, leading to young children being disproportionately affected. Already scarce resources will likely be diverted to the pandemic response. Along with governments, families and communities also need to understand their role and importance of building a nurturing and protective environment for children. Today, key findings from a UNICEF led formative study ‘Parenting Matters: Examining Parenting Approaches and Practices, to assess knowledge, attitudes and practices of parents, families and service provider on parenting (2019) were released. Some are glaring and point to the need for urgent action – especially the kind and amount of violence children were facing.

Under COVID-19, there is an immediate need to designate child protection services as essential services. The response must include provision of critical health and social welfare and child protection services, including mental health and psychosocial support, and alternative care arrangements. These services should be available to all, including children as migrants, those without parents, to ensure the protection for the most vulnerable children.

Communicating with and engaging parents, caregivers and children with evidence-based information and advice is essential. The study recommends building skills of frontline workers to better engage with caregivers. It also highlights the need for quality engagement of fathers in caregiving to support their child’s development.

States like Maharashtra, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are forerunners in implementing innovative parenting programmes, that other states can adopt.  With UNICEF support, parents, especially fathers, are being provided with the information and skills to use material easily available in and around their homes. The has led to better and more parental engagement through storytelling, singing and playing with the child – all critical for a child’s brain development. This is being done through training of Anganwadi and ASHA workers, so they can use their existing platforms effectively for parent engagement such as through monthly parent meetings and home visits. States are also organizing community events to involve all parents and caregivers around the importance of Eat, Play and Love, such as Palak (caregiver) Mela, in Maharashtra.

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